AUSTIN, Texas -- Junior All-America pitcher Blaire Luna went the distance and senior third baseman Nadia Taylor belted a three-run homer to lead the No. 8 Texas softball team to a 4-2 victory against No. 12 Oregon in the opening game of the NCAA Austin Super Regional on Friday night at Red and Charline McCombs Field. With Friday’s win, the No. 6 national seed Longhorns (47-11) need just one victory on Saturday to advance to the Women’s College World Series. The Ducks (42-16), the No. 11 national seed, would need to defeat Texas twice on Saturday to advance to the Women’s College World Series.
After both pitchers controlled the action for the first three innings, Texas got on the board first in the bottom of the fourth. Courtney Craig led off the frame with a double off the wall in left center and advanced to third on a Karina Scott groundout. Torie Schmidt then brought home Craig with an RBI groundout to short.
“This Super Regional has two great teams matched up, and I think you could tell in the first half of the game that we haven’t played each other much,” Texas head coach Connie Clark said. “The seniors have been playing amazing. Every time they come to the plate, something exciting is bound to happen. Nadia Taylor and Courtney Craig got those first rallies going.”
The Longhorns added to their cushion with a two-out rally that produced three runs in the fifth. With two out and no runners on base, Taylor Hoagland and Lexy Bennett hit back-to-back singles to put runners on first and second. Taylor then hit a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left center for a three-run homer, her 11th of the season and 32nd of her career (tied for fifth in UT history), to give Texas a 4-0 lead. Taylor’s shot marked her fourth homer in six postseason contests this year.
Oregon answered with a single run in the sixth with Kailee Cuico’s solo home run over the wall in left field for her 12th homer of the year. After Christie Nieto walked and Alexa Peterson doubled, Luna got out of the jam by retiring Moore on a groundout to third and striking out pinch-hitter Liz Brenner.
“I tried to slow the momentum down a little bit. Coach and I talked about that,” Luna said. “I was a little bit nervous out there. I was trying to focus on hitting my spots and not trying to over-do it. I think Oregon did a great job putting the ball in play and making us work.”
Oregon continued to work with a two-out rally in the seventh, as back-to-back singles by Kaylan Howard and Kelsey Chambers put runners at first and second and brought the tying run to the plate. A wild pitch from Luna coupled with an error by second baseman Bennett, who dropped the ball while trying to tag out Chambers in a rundown, allowed Howard to come around from second to score and cut the lead to 4-2. After a walk to Cuico put runners on first and second, Luna got Nieto to ground out to first and close out the win.
Luna (22-5) struck out ten batters while walking four to give Texas its 30th victory of the season at home. That matches the program record of 30 wins that was set by the 2006 team.
“We were all talking and wanting to get this first win in order to set the tone,” the second baseman Taylor said. “We know we are going to try our best and go get it tomorrow afternoon. I think the pitching staff did a great job, and the hitters did a great job adjusting.”
Texas and Oregon play game two of the NCAA Austin Super Regional on Saturday with the first pitched scheduled for 4 p.m. CT. Should Oregon win, the two teams would meet again at approximately 6:30 p.m. Central for the right to advance to the Women’s College World Series.